First Presbyterian Church of Branson plans to begin a campaign focused on reading the Bible with its congregation in hopes of expanding the initiative to its surrounding area and beyond.
The congregation, part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), will be using Zondervan’s adaptation of the Bible called The Story to pique an interest in daily reading of God’s Word. The campaign begins at the southwest Missouri church of 400 members (about 225 in regular attendance) on Sept. 8 and will stretch into the spring.
Sessions will be provided on Sundays, with a deeper analysis of that session offered as a follow-up on Wednesday or as a way to allow those who were not in the Sunday service to catch up and remain on the same page of The Story.
“When we looked at materials and programs, this seemed like it was the complete package with materials that stretched across all different age groups,” FPC-Branson Pastor Tom Willcox said of The Story.
A study by Lifeway Research revealed that less than one in five people (19 percent) personally read the Bible daily outside of a worship service setting. About the same number (18 percent) say they rarely or never read the Bible. About a quarter of those surveyed indicated reading the Bible a few times a week, 14 percent read it once a week, and 22 percent indicated they read God’s Word maybe once a month.
“God’s Word is truth, so it should come as no surprise that reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most impact on growth in this attribute of spiritual maturity,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “As basic as that is, there are still numerous churchgoers who are not reading the Bible regularly. You simply won’t grow if you don’t know God and spend time in God’s Word.”
The goal of taking up The Story as a tool for Biblical literacy at FPC-Branson is three-fold, Willcox explained.
It is to increase the daily reading habits and practices of the congregation, to promote an intergenerational experience of the Bible’s story of redemption by presenting it in a form that all ages can follow, and get everyone on the same page throughout the study, allowing them to engage in conversation and discussion of the stories looked at each week – promoting conversation outside the church setting.
“This should help people get a sense of the story of redemption presented through the Scripture,” Willcox said, noting that the presentation is such that it takes many of the individual stories that people know and links them to other similar stories without varying the Scripture. “It’s linked to provide a logical flow, allowing people to see God’s story from Creation to Revelation and realize (all the individual stories) work together as one.”
The Story is designed to present the Bible in an abridged, chronological format that tells the story of God. It is presented from a non-denominational perspective and designed to read like a novel of the Scriptures. It is the Bible, presented in a format to appeal to various age groups.
Willcox said there has been some concern and skepticism that such a presentation might compromise the integrity of the Scriptures, but that’s not the case with The Story.
“It’s organized in such a way that makes everything fresh and new even though they are familiar stories,” he said, adding that the presentation should strengthen Old Testament foundations needed for a better understanding of the New Testament stories.
“We tend to focus on the New Testament, much to the exclusion of the Old Testament,” Willcox continued. “But you can’t understand the fullness of the Gospel presented without the Old Testament.”
Zondervan’s version of The Story is presented in ways to reach different audiences, from adults and youth (teens) to curriculum that engages children of varying ages (middle school and younger). It is a curriculum that takes 31 weeks to cover and is set up in such a way that all age groups using it can be at the same point each week.
It is geared as a tool to increase Biblical literacy and already is being used by a number of churches across the nation. Churches that have used The Story have reported an increase in knowledge of the Bible as well as some congregational growth and a better understanding of how God reveals what happens in the story of mankind.
“It’s not easy to study the Bible from beginning to end with an entire congregation,” Willcox said. “This makes the study an approachable prospect for the entire family.”
And it gets people in God’s Word to create a stronger sense of Biblical literacy, something Willcox labeled as “critical.”
“It’s the touch point for staying connected to the Lord and the truth that keeps us with Him,” Willcox said. “Scripture is the best reminder of what God thinks, what God wants and who God is. The more time folks spend in the Word, the easier it is to keep everything we do in alignment with the nature of God. It keeps us closer to the side of our Heavenly Father, closer to understanding His heart. When that happens, the better life is for us.”